Chris Cornell Quizzes Jimmy Page About Led Zeppelin’s Glory Days
In conversation with Chris Cornell, the legendary guitarist discusses his favorite memories and most famous instruments
Jimmy Page, guitarist and sonic architect of the immortal Led Zeppelin, has a book out, also called Jimmy Page. It’s a lavish photographic history of his life in music, but because the text is minimal, if witty (a picture of Page swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s has a caption about his “homeopathic remedy”), his current publicity tour is serving as essential commentary and explication. Page has recently turned up everywhere from satellite radio to the Late Show With David Letterman, but onstage last night at the Theater at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, he found perhaps the most simpatico interviewer possible: Chris Cornell, guitarist and lead singer for the Zep-influenced Soundgarden.
Cornell didn’t hit Page with heavy-duty questions about band discord or plagiarism ”“Â or anything, really. A typical query was “You’re a multifaceted artist ”“Â where did that come from?” But the worshipful vibe facilitated a relaxed atmosphere: The 70-year-old Page, looking dapper with gray hair, a black scarf and a leather jacket, proved to be a charming raconteur, not addled by any of his past misadventures. If he didn’t have any new revelations, he at least kept the enthusiastic audience entertained for over an hour and a half. Here are 13 of our favorite moments.
1. Page said that a photo where he posed in a checkered sweater-vest was taken in the London house where he lived when Led Zeppelin formed. He added that the band rehearsed “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Dazed and Confused” in the room where he posed for a picture next to a huge flowerpot ”“Â “a jardiniÃ¨re, really.” The same house opened up on the back to the river Thames, where he sometimes would go boating in the evenings. “Women liked it,” he confided.
2. Page said that his days as a session music demanded more facility with sheet music than he actually had. “I needed to read music,” he moaned. “I was very lucky because they’d give me my part first.”
3. Page described his intentions with Led Zeppelin’s debut as “a guitar tour de force, but not at the expense of the other members.” Taking a moment to praise each of his bandmates, he quirkily called John Bonham “very regional as a drummer.”
4. Led Zeppelin earning a gold album was an important moment of validation for Page. “I’d heard about gold records and seen Elvis Presley’s album.” So his reaction to getting his first gold record was not cynical, but rather, “Hallelujah, we got there.”
5. Looking at a famous photo of Zeppelin on an airport runway, adorned with Hawaiian leis and clutching the boxes that held the tapes for an in-progress Led Zeppelin II, Cornell remarked, “Of all the records I’ve ever made, I don’t think I’ve ever held a tape box.” Page talked about how the photo was partially staged, but that the band was indeed schlepping around their own tapes as they did sessions at various American studios, which let them record as they toured and kept the music out of the hands of record executives. It was an extension of how they handled their debut: “The record was recorded, and then it was taken to the record company. That’s why we were able to say ‘no singles.'” The Led Zeppelin aversion to singles was born from Page’s time in the Yardbirds, when the band would regularly would get derailed by needing to produce their contractually obligated non-album singles.
6. Cornell’s best turn of phrase came when he described a photo of Page sitting in a rural Welsh stream: “This is a photo of the front porch of that universe you created with acoustic music.”
7. Studying a photo of Zeppelin onstage at a sold-out show at the Forum (the Los Angeles arena), Page identified the date by the guitar he was holding: “I’ve got the Les Paul, so that one’s in 1969, probably late 1969.” Looking at an earlier live photo of the group, he joked, “The light show’s more interesting than the band.”
8. Page was a pioneer of the double-necked guitar, which he needed in order to play both the twelve-string and the six-string parts in “Stairway to Heaven.” He requested it specially from Gibson, but conceded that he “didn’t know if it was made [specially] or pulled out and dusted off.” One later photo showed Page playing a triple-neck guitar (unironically): he explained that he used it when he knew he would be switching between twelve-string guitar parts (on “Gallows Pole”) and mandolin (on “The Battle of Evermore”).
9. The craziest outfit in the book is Page wearing a red sweater emblazoned with his “Zoso” symbol from Zeppelin’s fourth album. He said that it was knitted by the girlfriend of a friend, but that when he sweated onstage, it immediately started to shrink.
10. Some of the best pictures, Page revealed, were taken by Ian Stewart (the Rolling Stones pianist who also played on Zep’s “Boogie with Stu”) and Linda McCartney.
11. Cornell, looking at a photo of a grinning Page backstage at Madison Square Garden: “You look like you’re having a good time.” Page: “Oh, I’m always having a good time.”
12. Discussing a photo where he was receiving the OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II and explaining the various British honors to Cornell, Page said, “I don’t think I’ll get knighted, but I didn’t think I’d get this.” Page was visibly fond of the Queen, who ascended to the throne when he was a schoolboy. He explained her importance by saying, “She’s on the stamps.”
13. Talking about his plans for the future, Page promised to be touring soon (or soon-ish). “The most important part is to be seen to be playing,” he told the crowd, which whooped with delight. “It doesn’t matter what I do at home.”